I don’t speak spanish, however I’ll still share my thoughts on speaking a foreign language.
- Tossing out common phrases or Christmas greetings, etc, even if you speak no other Spanish should be fine.
- If the other person speaks little to no English, then anything to facilitate communication should be good.
- Don’t torture someone. Christ, if they speak fluent English and you speak broken Spanish then just.don’t.go.there. [I’ve gotten this for 20 years, and it doesn’t get any easier to listen to someone trot out half remembered language lessons from 10 years ago when I speak their language fluently.]
It has been my observation in my neck of the woods that if two people are facing each other and they are both hispanic, they will start in spanish. I see this almost universally, but this is in California. My Spanish is not the best, so I only speak it when the person I’m speaking to obviously doesn’t speak any/much English. Used to happen a lot when I worked admin for a construction company. I do, however, know how to say a handful of basic things in 8 languages*, and will use them occasionally. If I can tell via accent what your native language, I like to say please/thank you/your welcome in that language. It always makes people smile. Though, with languages other than Spanish it’s less. . . loaded.
-An interesting side note, some of the truly bilingual aren’t always conciously aware of what language they are speaking, as they thing in either/both. My roommate is French but raised in the US, and if I insert French into a conversation, he’ll respond and keep talking in French, well over my head and actually unaware he’s switched languages.
*(We travelled a lot as a kid. My mother is good with languages (As in “I think I’ll teach myself to read Swedish”-- and she did). She felt it was important I be able to exchange basic greetings, ask for help, identify myself, my parents, my hotel, etc.) Now that I work with professional translators, I am adding to my list.
Once upon a time:
I was working at a small sheet metal manufacturing place where most of the employees spoke Spanish first (and some, only). I was designing a door opening mechanism and was ready to build it. The shop crew was very busy, so I went out to the shop and started building it myself. It required heating a flat bar with a torch, bending it into a bracket, and drilling a hole through it for a pivot pin.
I heated and bent the bracket and prepare to drill the hole on a drill press and I decided that a pilot hole would be good. The men on the assembly line were using air drills to make 1/4" holes for rivets, so I approached one of the men (who didn’t speak any English) and pointed to the bracket and his to drill. He reached for the bracket and I said “calliente”. Except I pronounced it “cayeta” (forgive the spelling) thinking that the double ‘l’ made a ‘y’ sound instead of a ‘ly’ sound. He grabbed the hot bracket anyway, burning his hand. Fortunately, it wasn’t serious. I was puzzled as to why he would grab it after I told him it was hot.
Later in the day, the foreman was in my office and I asked him how to pronounce “hot”. He explained to me that I had told the guy to “shut up”. I felt about 2" tall. I asked him to please apologize to the guy for me. Hopefully, they all got a good laugh out of it.
I was just in Arequipa, Peru at a guest house where the owner also had a restaurant in DC. I wounder if it’s the same place.
The place I’m talking about is in Northern Virginia, and I think that the owner lives locally. Around here Peruvian chicken joints are a dime a dozen, but that one’s my favorite.
I think the word you wanted is actually caliente. That might be why you didn’t pronounce it right.
I never speak to anyone in Spanish (in the US) unless they make it clear they can’t speak English at all. It just seems condescending to me, like I’m assuming they can’t speak English. My Spanish is not super super fantastic (it was pretty good at one point, but it’s somewhat faded from lack of use) so it’s pretty likely that their English will be better than my Spanish anyway.